Sunday20 August 2017

Debate: Should the coalition scrap Breeam?

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Yes, says Jonathan Hines, it is holding back progress; but Mel Starrs says it is vital to ensuring that sustainability remains on the agenda


Jonathan Hines, director at Architype

Given the urgency of reducing carbon emissions,we should focus effort and money on the most effective tools. Breeam is a blunt tool failing to achieve reductions, and undermining progress towards that goal.

The cost of Breeam itself prevents spending on more useful measures that would increase environmental performance.

Its tick-box process — of re-proving things you do anyway — sucks precious time and creativity out of the design process.

Unthinking adoption of inappropriate measures to score points leads to less rather than more sustainable solutions.

The carbon target underpinning Breeam is fundamentally flawed. It requires offsetting carbon with micro-renewables or by changing fuel, actively discouraging improved building efficiency.

Breeam “Very Good” required renewables, but left a current Architype project consuming excessive energy. Redesigned to Passivhaus standards it will cost 4.5% less and deliver significant annual energy savings. A no-brainer.

Motivated clients improve sustainability despite, not because of Breeam. Unmotivated clients seek the easiest way to achieve the required level, however inappropriate.

At best Breeam slightly raises general awareness. At worst it actively encourages inefficient and less sustainable solutions.

In Breeam’s attempt to define relative ratings for everything — from carbon emissions to how considerate your contractor is, from numbers of cycle racks to where the nearest cashpoint is — we end up understanding the price of everything, but the value of nothing.

Passivhaus would be a more effective tool. Its demanding energy target and rigorous certification process drive design optimisation to deliver energy savings and carbon reductions.


Mel Starrs, associate director at PRP

I am a very experienced assessor and I know Breeam isn’t perfect. Yes, it can be bureaucratic, process-oriented and adds administration costs to projects. However, this is at least partly due to the scheme’s success.

Many people confuse Breeam (broad environmental sustainability) with energy and carbon savings. Energy is only one section of Breeam out of a total of nine different areas for assessment. We can debate the wisdom in individual credits but as a tool for ensuring the design team and contractor have at least been asked to consider a wide spectrum of sustainability issues, there is nothing else out there to compete. Breeam has been very influential in encouraging contractors to construct more sustainably.

Back in 2005 when Building Schools for the Future began, the regulatory landscape was a little bereft of sustainability pegs to hang things on. Have we really moved on so far in seven years that it can be thrown away?

Maybe the James Review recommendations are valid and what schools need is a simple framework with watertight, clear intentions and possibly self-certification. Perhaps the education secretary has already commissioned this work if he decides new schools are not required to achieve a Breeam rating but I’m not holding my breath.

I don’t believe we’re at a point yet where a “lowest price” (D&B, PFI etc) contract will deliver a sustainable building through building regulations alone. So it is clear to me that we must use some kind of guidance and assessment process and Breeam is a very good method which is well understood. 

Throw away Breeam now and we’ll likely be left with adequate but unsustainable schools.

What do you think?


Readers' comments (2)

  • Of course both Jonathan and Mel are right.

    Thanks Amanda for raising an important aspect of the energy certification of buildings - the expensive privatisation of knowledge. The multi-disciplinary Edge (www.edgedebate.com) will always argue for the measurement of the energy performance of public (and private) buildings and the publication of the results. More broadly we would argue that any publicly-funded research should be freely available for the greater good, the reduction of waste and progress towards zero carbon. Of course any methodology should be as robust as possible but we would all benefit from free access to the software. The best solution would be to renationalise the BRE so that we have the national research body we all so badly need.

    Robin Nicholson

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  • www.inotectural.co.uk

    BREEAM is too bureaucratic, the tick box approach can result in buildings being less sustainable as designers work towards gaining points rather than finding the best solution for their particular project. However if it is scrapped, what would we replace it with? Perhaps the process could be improved, rather than starting again from scratch.

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